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Ali Cha’aban Unveils Larger-than-Life Paper Planes at 21,39 Jeddah Arts

“Class Portrait”. Courtesy of Ali Chaaban.

It’s nearly impossible to make your way through the sixth edition of Jeddah’s 21,39 art exhibition, which kicked off in the coastal Saudi city on Wednesday, without pausing to take a picture with a series of larger-than-life Persian rugs contorted and manipulated into the shape of a paper plane or a crumpled-up sheet of paper. The traffic-stopping work, entitled “12 PM Class series” is the brainchild of artist, sociocultural commentator, and Persian rug enthusiast Ali Cha’aban. As part of the “Al Obour” exhibition, the Lebanese-born Kuwait-based creative sought to challenge the current status quo of today’s educational system, which he believes is, in his own words, “failing our children,” through his artwork. “Our educational system is supposed to teach children the basic skills and capabilities of critical thinking,” he explains to “I believe this is because our current educational curriculum is unable to keep up with the fast-moving pace of change the world is undergoing,” he stated.

The starting point of the 26-year-old’s inspiration was the very first word in Islam that was bestowed on the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), which was Iqra’a, meaning “to read”. “The ideation of reading transcends its physical attribute, and becomes the root of critical thinking,” explains the artist, who hopes that his artwork will inspire viewers to reflect, meditate, and ask questions. “Don’t just teach our children to read. Teach them to question what they read,” he boldly stated.

“Critical Thinker” (2019). Courtesy of Ali Chaaban.

The classic folded paper gliders are symbolic for several reasons (who hasn’t flown a paper plane at least once during class?), but mainly because they can represent youth and freedom. Cha’aban’s sculptural re-interpretation was created using plywood (paper is made out of wood pulp), which he mirrored with the ubiquitous Persian rugs, a nod to his Arabic roots. In fact, its not the first time that the artist uses tapestries in his work—  “The Broken Dream” (2016) featured a fractured Persian rug with a bruised Superman interrupting the weaves. “The Persian rug is found in all sorts of Arabic homes, whether poor or rich, we all have that unmindful appreciation towards it,” he states. “So nontraditionally, the Persian rug has combined or unified the Arabic identity and seems to give it an aesthetic that we can all relate to. So when I come to tackle issues of the Arab world, I like to use the carpet to represent the Arabic man,” explains Cha’aban.

“Unthinking Majority” (2019). Courtesy of Ali Cha’aban

Having previously showcased his work at a solo exhibition at Dubai’s La Cantine du Faubourg and in collective exhibits alongside other Middle Eastern artists, Cha’aban classes the art scene in the region as “becoming more profound and more exposed,” crediting the Internet and its subsequent power of virality for ultimately and unintentionally boosting the art scene in the Arab world. The artist also believes that events like 21,39 are vital to the Middle Eastern art landscape for allowing established as well as up-and-coming artists to present their work on an international level, and to a more refined audience that have an eye for the contemporary art.

Those who wish to view (or pose next to) the artist’s thought-provoking series can visit the Gold Moor Mall, where the 21,39 Jeddah Arts is currently underway.

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